How popular is the Champions League now?
Following the winter break, there are no longer any Dutch clubs remaining in the knock-out phase of the Champions League. And it may be that Feyenoord was provisionally the last Dutch participant.
Next year, the Dutch premier league champion will not automatically progress to the group phase of the Champions League. This means that the chance of being able to motivate our ‘own’ clubs to participate in Champions League matches will be reduced. The question is whether the general public is still interested in the Champions League?
UEFA has long maintained that it considered it very important that the Champions League should be available for everyone to watch on the open network. Now that the deals for the next Champions League cycle (2018/2019 - 2020/2021) have been completed, big money seems to have won ‘as usual’ and the championship ball seems to have disappeared behind the decoder in an increasing number of countries.
We already know that in Spain, Great Britain, Germany, Italy and France, the matches can only be viewed on a pay channel. It’s not impossible that this will soon also be the case in the Netherlands. Who is prepared to pay for the increasingly predictable Champions League? Will the less fanatical followers abandon the championship en masse from 2018?
Since 2000, we have been monitoring the developments surrounding the Champions League with a global survey*. In Western Europe, interest in the last two seasons has slowly dwindled, whereby Germany is a negative outlier (a decline of 7% since the 2014/2015 season). Interest in the Champions League within Western Europe varies considerably, from 61% in Spain and Italy to 42% in France (which is linked to the (semi) finalists in recent years).
Champions League matches have a huge reach across Western Europe. Almost all football fans watch one or more matches per season and people who are less into football often see at least (part of) one match. This is also precisely what makes the championship so interesting to sponsors. But we are now seeing that the number of people following the Champions League duels on TV is declining (-2% in the last two seasons).
It is evident that this trend will continue if pay-per-view is introduced in more European countries. What’s more, for sponsors, this means that their target group is becoming increasingly restricted to true football fans.
China and the Middle East
Recently, one story doing the rounds was that UEFA is considering holding the Champions League final outside Europe (New York is one venue on the list of nominees). If you look at the figures, that isn’t as crazy as it sounds. The number of people interested outside Europe is around 55%. That is higher than the interest within Europe, but even more importantly: the countries outside Europe are showing growth (+2% on average). The Champions League is swiftly gaining popularity, especially in China and the Middle East ( +13% and +12% respectively).
The declining interest in Europe appears to be having an influence on the performance of Champions League sponsors. We are seeing the sponsorship awareness of almost all the major sponsors stagnating or even declining. They are already having difficulty attracting attention, because the number of sponsorships in football is huge, they change very frequently and ambush sponsoring still exists. The average football fan can no longer see the wood for the trees.
More than ever before, from 2018, Champions League sponsors will have to use their creativity to attract the attention of football fans. Traditional media, such as the LED billboards and TV commercials are already having a reduced impact, but that will reduce even further if the championship disappears behind the pay-wall. More is required to continue to enthral the Champions League follower.
Heineken has already extended its sponsorship deal with UEFA until 2021. We can still look forward to some great campaigns, so I remain curious!
*UCL sponsorship effect study
Since 2000, Blauw Research, in conjunction with several title sponsors of the Champions League, has been conducting a global survey that provides the UCL partners with insight into the impact of sponsorship on their brand. The survey is conducted twice per year (after the group phase and after the final) in 24 countries (9 within Europe and 15 outside Europe).